spoilers for Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt

I love Studio GAINAX, and I don’t think there’s an original series of theirs I’ve seen that I’ve disliked. When it comes to high quality animated entertainment, GAINAX pretty much have it on lock. I’ve seen Gunbuster, Neon Genesis Evangelion, FLCL, Diebuster, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann and now Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt and I can safely say that they have maintained an almost Pixar-esque standard of quality. Artistically speaking, none of their series has been a failure. Sure, some of them are literally slapped together of all the parts they wanted to make a series out of, such as Gunbuster. Sure, sometimes they face budget problems and have to invent ways to convey the end of the story without using new animation. We know which one that is. And throughout all of this, I stand by their side.

Their new series Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt ended recently. And I’m about to say why I not only have no problem whatsoever with its ending, I love it. I laughed harder than I’ve ever laughed before watching that series and finally felt comfortable again. You see, what has been seen online as a vast shift in tone in the last thirty seconds of animated content–as a cop out of the highest order–as THE DAY GAINAX RUINED CHRISTMAS–is actually a re-establishing of the tone that the series had been trading on for about 11.5 episodes prior: no holds barred, nothing is sacred comedy. And therefore, /a/, you done goof’d.

PSG ended every episode with a punchline and always had some form of comedy to its proceedings. The best way to sum it up would be an exchange from episode 13:

Brief: You two really are bitches! Always acting selfishly and joking around! Have you ever been serious about anything?!
Panty: We’re always serious.
Stocking: We’re seriously joking around.

For example, the episode Ghost: The Phantom of Daten City is seen online as a surprisingly melancholy and downbeat affair where Stocking finds and loses her true love in the form of a ghost. While this is true, what everyone seems to have forgotten is that her ghostly love is a smelly, farting, nasty, rude fat slob with poor manners who constantly insults her. I get that Stocking is a dominant personality who’s into being dominated in the bedroom, that all makes sense. (At several points in the series, her fetish for bondage is exploited to fanservicey effect, including being tied up, enjoying being tortured and spending some quality time in the tight tight tentacles of a giant squid. Why do I mention this? Cos I like Stocking. Yes, still.) This isn’t a legitimately touching romance, it’s just being played as one for laughs. And really, when I saw people taking this seriously online, I should have known better.

For my other example, the episode Vomiting Point, a low-paid salaryman named Terao, living in Little Tokyo is abused at length by everyone he knows. His daughter is spoiled–or was that his granddaughter–his coworkers are all thirty years his junior (including his boss) and nothing works out right for him. And this is one of the funniest things I have ever seen. Partly due to the contrast between bleak, grey, realistic Little Tokyo and bright, colourful and cartoony Daten City and partly because it’s some damn well-timed black humour. Terao’s life is horrible, and it’s legitimately funny to see him go through his day being bullied by everyone only to finally get angry and puke up a river. And even then, after Panty and Stocking save the day, at the end of the episode, his life still sucks. And it’s hilarious.

All of this is to demonstrate that we were already familiar with what GAINAX were doing: they were seriously joking around. They’d already done entire episodes that were shockingly sobering but still hilarious for being so. They were finding a way to make being serious funny and they did it well. PSG is, at its core, a gag series. GAINAX are, at their core, masters of taking concepts and narrative philosophies beyond their logical conclusion, out into a realm of pure possibility and back around to the essence of what they were. We’ve seen them do this in FLCL, Gunbuster, TTGL and many other series. So when PSG got legitimately awesome in the second half of episode 12, Panty + Brief, we shouldn’t have thought “finally, they get to the good stuff!” They’d been giving us the good stuff all along. We just never stopped to realize every episode was funny.

Panty + Brief ends with a legitimately gutwrenching cliffhanger as Stocking is back in Heaven, Panty is left alone on Earth with her hymen back, the inability to make love to the one man she wants to and her powers as an Angel gone. It’s a shocking twist that pulls you out of your seat and, if you weren’t me, made you eagerly anticipate the beatdown the villains were about to receive in the next episode. I, however, was immediately suspicious. You see, it wasn’t funny. It wasn’t shockingly beyond anything anyone else had ever done before–I mean, it was, but not in a way that garnered laughter. People calling the after-credits section of episode 13 a GAINAX ending are missing a very important point: the tone shifted here, when the bad guys won and our characters were legitimately in danger. That hadn’t happened in PSG before, at all. And seeing it happen felt plain weird.

Everyone online, however, ignored this in anticipation of the best series finale of all time. And boy, did GAINAX deliver. After twenty solid minutes of hoary action tropes being played heart-tuggingly straight and seeing our girls fight and beat the bad guys back with a raucously literal deus ex machina, everyone online relaxed. I loved the episode, I thought it was hilarious and a fitting end to the–

Stocking: Do you think they work on Angels?

And there it was. Stocking dices Panty into square-inch cubes with her sword, reveals that she’s a demon and Corset, the main villain, reveals himself as a gigantic wad of ejaculate by coming out of Brief’s penis. He was going to use the 666 pieces of Panty to lead Brief and Chuck on a trail to neighbouring Oten City where he’ll run his entire scheme again. Garterbelt took this in stride, bidding Brief and Chuck to go along the trail to Oten City and put Panty back together again. TO BE CONTINUED IN NEXT SEASON

You, out there, online. You were mad. You thought “How could GAINAX ruin such a fantastic, action-oriented and perfect ending?!” But they hadn’t. They’d written the final punchline to a gag series where nothing was sacred, nothing was holy and death is hilarious. And that’s why the ending is not a GAINAX ending, but rather the only one that would make sense. PSG man. u mad?